Amazing flotilla to celebrate Diamond Jubilee

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 16th December 2011

THE Gogodala war canoes – their usual passengers in years gone by were warriors of Middle Fly who cruised the vast waterways of this Western province district to attack their enemy villages in a sparesly populated region where water transport is the majority’s form of movement.
But come next year one of these spectacular war canoes of the Gogodala people will take up her own berth in the history books – among a magnificent 1,000-strong flotilla from the UK and the Commonwealth countries, including Papua New Guinea, celebrating our Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on the Thames River, London.
In recent years the spirit of these Western province war canoes had been kept alive through the annual Gogodala canoe festival in Balimo, courtesy of the National Cultural Commission and major sponsors like the Rimbunan Hijau PNG Group.
The festival showcased Gogodala war canoes, the 40m craft renowned for their decorations and artworks depicting animal figures representing various clans.
These canoes play important roles for the many communities located near the sea and waterways, according to the NCC which adds that the loss of canoes from PNG’s changing lifestyles will be a loss of an important cultural identity.
Given the PNG political turmoil of the past few days, whoever takes over the Office of the Prime Minister in the coming weeks, even months, must remember that somewhere in that office, among the paper works, is an invitation from Buckingham Palace to PNG to send a traditional sea vessel to the celebrations – Misis Kwin’s invitation was passed to Prime Minister Peter O’Neill last month at CHOGM in Perth, Western Australia.
O’Neill’s media spokesman Daniel Korimbao confirms that the office has organised to send a Gogodala war canoe to represent PNG at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations will take place during four days next June.
Two others in our region have confirmed their participation: New Zealand is sending a Maori war canoe – the waka which, like the Gogodala war canoe, is an ornately decorated canoe traditionally made from hallowed-out tree trunk.
The Aussies have confirmed they are putting together a replica HMS Endeavour for the occasion. Its government says it is working with Aussies in the UK “to create a craft that is very readily identifiable as Australian”.
As one British newspaper reported: “It will be the high water mark in a reign that has witnessed the ebb and flow of the tides of 60 years: a magnificent flotilla of boats rowing, steaming and motoring down the Thames with the Queen aboard a new Royal Barge at its head.”
The “Order of Battle” is set for Sunday, June 3, the pinnacle of four days (June 2-5) of national Diamond Jubilee celebrations marking the Queen’s accession.
It is also said to be the greatest gathering on the river since the time of Charles II three-and-a-half centuries ago, stretching seven miles and taking 90 minutes to pass a fixed point.
Up until the mid-19th Century the Monarch would regularly travel on the Thames either on ceremonial occasions or between the different palaces.
As other means of transport began to prove more efficient, however, it was deemed no longer necessary to keep a Royal Barge.
The Queen does occasionally make use of the Royal Nore, a vessel made available to her by the Port of London authority.
It has been involved in State visits since 1971 and carries the Royal Standard and Regalia when the Queen is aboard.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper has spoken to dozens of those involved to build the clearest picture yet of its true scale in terms of the size and variety of craft – seen in this illustration – volunteering to form an English armada behind Misis Kwin and sail into river history.
“For this is the ‘people’s pageant’, with almost every craft – other than the Royal Barge and security vessels – having applied to take part through a unique public ballot. Organisers, the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation, have until the end of the year to make their final selection,” reports the newspaper.
“The result will be a very non-Royal navy. It will include craft that have played a role in national life, such as Churchill’s funeral boat, the Havengore, and Dunkirk Little Ships.”
According to organisers, plying the waters of the Thames alongside them will also be around 40 narrow boats and 20 of the Dutch barges favoured by river dwellers, more than 100 private motor boats, between 30 and 40 tugs and barges and around 250 rowing boats, including classic Thames cutters.
At the rear will be a fleet of party boats. It is thought that every Class V passenger cruiser currently licensed on the Thames will participate, playing music from the decades of the Queen’s reign and carrying people dressed in fashions from the eras.
A collection of large vessels too big to sail under the bridges – including square riggers, oyster smacks and naval vessels – will be moored on the riverbank as a spectacular Avenue Of Sail.
Up to 20,000 crew and passengers will be on the water with up to a million watching from the banks and bridges.
“Each family of vessels will be separated by a Herald Barge.
The first will be a Belfry, built on a traditional Thames barge, but another six are likely to be converted passenger boats. Names under consideration include the Connaught, built in Oxford in 1911 and considered the finest Edwardian pleasure boat still afloat on the Thames.
“She has been used by stars such as Vanessa Redgrave
Zand Jane Seymour for private parties, and may be the Drums and Pipes Herald Barge.
“Others in the running are understood to be the passenger boats Sapele and Sarpedon, and the mv Edwardian built in 1985 for Richard Branson.
“They will be designated the Water and Whistles Barge (intended to look like a geyser, in honour of the old Thames fireboats); a Brass Band Herald Barge (possibly the brass section of the London Symphony Orchestra); a Bateria Herald Barge (maybe full of drummers with a South American/Samba feel); and finally a Pyrotechnics Herald Barge with a climactic fireworks display.”
The organisers say that the flotilla, expected to close the river between 11am and 6pm, will begin at Putney with Her Majesty at its helm. The Royal Barge will be followed by VIP guests, possibly including younger members of the Royal Family. The PS Elizabethan, a replica of an 1890s Mississippi stern-wheeled paddle steamer, is being considered for the job. The Queen will sail to Tower Bridge where she will disembark to watch the pageant. It will end in Greenwich, a course of around 12 miles.
Chris Livett, one of the Queen’s Watermen – a title held by just 24 people at any one time – sits on the Pageant’s Executive Group.
He said: ‘There are going to be a lot of boats, colour and noise, not only on the river but on its bridges and waterfront buildings. It will be the event of 2012. The whole world will be watching.’
The pageant is a recreation of one of London’s most ancient traditions. The first recorded was a Lord Mayor’s Show in 1453, and the last featured 140 vessels to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
Reports Mail On Sunday: “Her Diamond Jubilee pageant with its glorious vessels, sailed by the people for their Queen, will be an epic depiction of river life and will doubtless capture the same mood of pride and affection that greeted the Royal Wedding.
“The Thames has been described as liquid history – and with this wondrous flotilla it is set to make a little more.”